As you undoubtedly noticed this morning in the Minor League Daily, the Chicago Cubs’ big signing of this international signing period, Juan Carlos Paniagua, made his Stateside debut in the AZL last night, throwing two hitless, scoreless innings. He struck out one, and walked one.
This debut, of course, was notable because it meant that, at long last, MLB had formally approved Paniagua’s contract with the Cubs, after two previous failed attempts with the Diamondbacks and Yankees. Those attempted signings were nullified after MLB concluded that Paniagua, who comes from the Dominican Republic, had used falsified documents in the process of becoming eligible to be signed by a big league team. This time around, the Cubs paid a $1.5 million bonus to Paniagua – more than 50% of their allotted bonus pool for this international signing period – indicating just how highly they think of him.
It also indicated that the Cubs didn’t have grave concerns about Paniagua’s eligibility to sign this time around. After all, had his contract not been approved, the Cubs would get their $1.5 million back, but they would have missed out on all of the big names in this class.
Further, the signing amount suggests that the Cubs don’t have any concerns about Paniagua’s true age, even if MLB is uncertain. A source tells Baseball America’s Ben Badler that MLB was unable or unwilling to formally determine Paniagua’s age, leaving the onus on the Cubs to accept the risk that he might be older than he says he is. Paniagua has used the same birthdate – April 4, 1990 – each time he’s tried to sign, so, although there were falsified documents at issue, I’m not really sure that age is a real concern, even if MLB declined to make a decision.
Paniagua, a hard-throwing righty with a quality changeup and slider, will probably finish out the year in Arizona – there isn’t much season left – before working in instructionals, or perhaps a winter league, before next season. Next year, he could start the season out as high as AA Tennessee, depending on how he looks. There are risks involved with any signing, and maybe more with Paniagua, but the amount of money the Cubs committed to him relative to their international signing pool tells me they see him as a potential top prospect in the system.